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I believe I would have read this in 1988, as a stand-alone paperback novel. (I was avoiding all, or at least most, series that summer, having gotten fed up with David Eddings.)

I don't really recall a lot of the story, except specifically that The Hero (male) Didn't Get the Girl in the end. I recall that the protagonist was a musician-type guy with some kind of pointy weapon that he used when his magic music wasn't enough. (Which was pretty often, especially at the start, IIRC.) I don't think he was actually a "bard;" he simply played an instrument and had the ability to make magic with music. I'm not sure what instrument he played, but it was something portable (like a flute or a lyre) and pre-Renaissance (so not a violin). He came from some town and hadn't really traveled much before the story began.

He mostly traveled alone, met a few people along the way but never really formed a party.

He had to Save the World from some kind of Big Bad, of course. (I have no idea what the doom was, but if it was averted does it really matter?)

At one point he rescued a (female) forest spirit of some fashion. (This was one occasion when he had to use the sharp pointy thing not his music.) She wasn't human, but she wasn't an anthropomorphic animal either; she belonged to some kind of nature-connected magic race like a dryad (but not an elf). I think he kind of started to fall in love with her, but her boyfriend showed up and she was like "Cya!"

My memory is really vague about the ending; I don't remember how he meets up with the Damsel in Distress or how the final confrontation with the Big Bad went down, but I think she beat up the Big Bad and then basically told the hero "KKThxBai!"

It's definitely not Spellsinger; Jon-Tom arrived from our world (he wasn't a native); he met anthropomorphic animals (Mudge, Clothahump), formed a party... and he does get the girl, just not in the first book of the series.

  • Now I'm trying to think of old fantasy stories with a main character who was described as a "bard," "minstrel," "troubadour," "jongleur," "skald," or any other word that amounts to much the same thing -- some sort of wandering musician in what I take it was a medieval-type culture? Off the top of my head, I'm not coming up with much, and some of the few examples I do recall were only the protagonists of stories much, much shorter than "novel-length." (For example, Poul Anderson's character Cappen Varra never had his own novel.) – Lorendiac Aug 15 at 0:23
  • To eliminate another possibility: The Harp and the Blade by John Myers Myers. A wandering bard in Dark Ages France was the narrator, and he thought he would get a romantic happy ending until, in the last few pages, he discovered the girl for whom he'd done so much was marrying someone else. But he didn't have a magical instrument, or a magical singing voice, or anything along those lines -- it was more along the lines of "historical adventure novel with a fair amount of humor." (I'd expected it to have lots of magic, in keeping with Myers's classic novel Silverlock, but no dice.) – Lorendiac Aug 15 at 0:49
3

I figured it out! For some reason "Dursona" popped into my head; I thought it might be a name from the story, so I started searching for it. Eventually that led me here. It wasn't a name, but it was from the story.

The novel is Harp of the Grey Rose by Charles de Lint. (de Lint immediately felt right when I saw that; 1988 was the summer I started reading him. I also read Moonheart, Greenmantle and Wolf Moon that summer, but then I read almost a hundred other books too, including Cosmic Computer and Reap the East Wind.)

Quoting from the book's page on SF Site:

He is the Songweaver, but before he was a master of song he was merely Cerin of Wran Cheaping-a seventeen-year-old orphan raised by a wildland witch. Then he encountered the Maid of the Grey Rose-the lone survivor of the war that devastated the Trembling Lands and the promised bride of Yarac Stone-Slayer, the feared and terrible Waster. The mysterious beauty captured Cerin's heart, drawing him into a world both dark and deadly, until armed with only a tinkerblade and the magic of song...

So we have a young man with an unattainable love interest, a nondescript pointy-stabby thing and music magic.

Browsing through a bunch of reviews on the Goodreads page, it seems like the woodland woman he meets is half-deer/half-human, kinda like a centaur but different. (Good grief, TVTropes actually has "Our Centaurs Are Different!")

Also mentioned a couple of times on the Goodreads page is how the Maid of the Grey Rose is the one to ultimately defeat the enemy, and that she then leaves Cerin.

  • 1
    I've never read it, which makes me feel considerably better about the fact that I didn't recognize it from your description. – Lorendiac Aug 17 at 2:57
  • @Lorendiac Based on the reviews I was reading, it doesn't sound like you missed much. :) It did remind me, though, that there's another series of books about a harpist by de Lint. – DavidW Aug 17 at 3:02

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